Mouse on the Keys is one of Japan’s most unique and unclassifiable instrumental groups. With just two keyboards and a drum set, they invented a dynamic sound that sits somewhere between jazz, post-rock and techno with a hardcore punk sensibility. We caught up with pianist / keyboardist Daisuke Niitome ahead of the band’s China tour to learn more about their hardcore origins, Brian Eno’s compliments and the surprising new direction of their latest album, Very.
How did your musical interests shift from hardcore music to jazz / post-rock that you are now focusing on?
[Drummer Akira Kawasaki] started the band in 2006, and he always wanted to make a band that consisted entirely of piano and drums. Before Mouse on the Keys he used to play with [keyboardist Atsushi Kiyota] in a post-hardcore / post-rock band, Nine Days Wonder.
We had a specific sound concept in mind for Mouse on the Keys: to use elements of modern French music with hardcore music from the 80s and 90s, and mix them in a style reminiscent of Detroit techno. The attitude is always hardcore, while the music is a mix of jazz, post-rock, math rock, lounge, electronica … for us, it just needs to be interesting and fun to play in. live.
Your concerts are very visceral and full of energy – do you think your hardcore origins are carried on through them?
Absoutely. One of the magic things about going to punk and hardcore concerts is the energy in the room. When we were young and went to smaller punk gigs, it was that feeling that made him so great. I think our concerts are very energetic and we always try to involve the crowd, so the feeling is like in a punk concert.
What helps you bring together such different musical genres?
We always like to play with two different ideas. Our songs may seem very chaotic at first, but then everything will flow into a magical way. It’s a lot of fun to play with, and we always try to fool our crowds. The beauty and simplicity of chaos can be breathtaking.
We also try to play with digital and analog elements in our sets and create our own universe. It’s very difficult to make two conflicting ideas work in a song, but when it does, it’s the most rewarding thing.
Image via developer
Very has a very soulful and almost romantic R&B sound compared to your previous albums. What is the reason behind this?
While we were on tour Brian Eno showed up to one of our concerts and told us he really loves music. Because we’re big fans of his music and were inspired by his comments, we wanted to stay a very technical band and try to have a more ambient sound in our new music.
What inspires the distinctive visuals of your live shows?
Visual elements are very important in our show. We like our shows to be very dark and use a lot of strobes, the only light coming from the projector. This way, it is easier for the crowd to make a connection with the music.
Mouse on the Keys is aware of the 20th century modernist movement in everything we do. In our cover designs, visuals and sound, we choose to keep the imagery austere and reminiscent of understated concrete structures designed by architects such as Louis Kahn and Kenzo Tange.
Image via developer
What is one of your favorite memories from a recent tour?
The last headlining show we did in Beijing was amazing. We were surprised to find that the venue was very crowded and we really bonded with the crowd. At the end of the show, our drummer started screaming “Sihai zhinei, xiongdi jie xiongdi! ”(“ We’re brothers no matter where we are. ”) The whole crowd started to cheer us on, so it was a fantastic thing.
Shenzhen: August 29, 8:30 p.m., presale RMB120, gate RMB150. B10. See the list of events.
Canton: August 30, 8:30 p.m., presale RMB120, gate RMB150. Mao Livehouse. See the list of events.
Beijing: August 31, 9 p.m., presale RMB150, gate RMB180. Yugong Yishan. See the list of events.
Shanghai: Sep 1, 9 p.m., presale RMB150, gate RMB180. Mao Livehouse. See the list of events.
[Cover image via promoter]
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